Known for his film character “Silent Bob,” film director Kevin Smith is now anything but silent. He’s now putting out a call to war among his 1.6 million Twitter followers – and the apparent enemy, Southwest Airlines, is more than listening. It’s Tweeting back.
Southwest is now in a race to apologize to Smith after airline staff ejected him from a flight on Saturday because of his size. Smith, who had apparently purchased two seats on one flight for himself, opted to accept a stand-by ticket on an earlier flight. Problem is there was only one stand-by seat.
Smith boarded. Smith was removed. Smith began Tweeting.
“Dude, I know I’m fat,” Smith said according to a CNN article. “That’s not why I was truly thrown off that plane because I fit perfectly in the seat… I am not fat enough to eject off a Southwest flight.”
Telling Twitter followers he had no problem sitting in the seat, buckling his seat belt and lowering his armrest, an angry Smith is vowing he’ll never fly on Southwest again. The resulting flood of traffic and responses to Southwest prompted at least a temporary shut-down of customer generated comments on the Airline’s blog. And if the fat issue weren’t enough, the airline’s general reputation is being called to question by a contingent of Smith supporters. Alas a public relations nightmare for the discount air carrier usually found to have few consumer complaints by comparison.
According to numerous published reports, Southwest says it will “use this experience in [its] customer service program when training… employees on the correct way to apply the policy.” The policy is simple and requires “passengers that cannot fit safely and comfortably in one seat to purchase an additional seat while traveling.”
“If a customer cannot comfortably lower the armrest and infringes on a portion of another seat, a customer seated adjacent would be very uncomfortable and a timely exit from the aircraft in the event of an emergency might be compromised if we allow a cramped, restricted seating arrangement,” the airline said according to CNN.
The message is made clear in a QandA now published on the airline’s web site which answers the question “What is the definitive gauge for a Customer of size?”
Answer: “The armrest is the definitive gauge for a Customer of size. It serves as the boundary between seats and measures 17 inches in width. Customers who are unable to lower both armrests and/or who compromise any portion of adjacent seating should proactively book the number of seats needed prior to travel.”
In all Southwest’s apology-making, what exactly is the airline apologizing for? Fat passengers? Small seats? The policy itself? Or is Southwest worried about the reach of a celebrity using Twitter?
In the minds of a largely compassionate, commonsensical public concerned about obesity as well as airline comfort, who will win? Whoever stops Tweeting sooner.